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R. Scott Lloyd, Deseret News
Keith Erekson, director of Church History Library, speaks at FairMormon Conference about the Book of Mormon witnesses Aug. 3, 2017.

The 20th annual FairMormon conference convenes in Provo on Aug. 1 and runs through Aug. 3. For the first time, the normally two-day conference has been extended to three days, with Wednesday devoted to subjects relating to women. (Men are, of course, also encouraged to attend.) For those interested in defending Mormonism and advocating its claims, the FairMormon gathering represents a high point of each year, and this next conference promises to be worthy of its predecessors.

The program on Aug. 1 will feature two presentations on women in LDS Church history by Matt McBride and Jenny Reeder, both of the Church History Department in Salt Lake City. The morning sessions will finish with a discussion by Lisa Olsen Tait of the Church History Library titled “Takeaways from the Gospel Topics Essays.”

In the afternoon, following lunch, Jenny Lund, who serves as director of the Historic Sites Division in the LDS Church History Department, will deliver a presentation titled “'We all must be crazy’: The Plight of a 19th-Century Mormon Missionary Wife.” Following her, Scott Hales, a historian and writer for the Church History Department, will discuss Mormon women’s stories as they figure in the new official four-volume history being published by the church. Thereafter, Taunalyn Rutherford, who recently completed her doctorate in the history of religion at Claremont Graduate University in California, will draw on her doctoral research to consider Mormon women in India. Lynne Hilton Wilson, who earned a doctorate in theology at Milwaukee’s Jesuit-led Marquette University, will examine “Peter and Paul’s Paradoxical Passages on Women.”

Sessions on Aug. 2 will open with Sara Riley’s reflections on the use of the biblical exodus narrative in Mosiah 11-18 and with Brad Wilcox looking at the concept of salvation by grace. Sister Riley holds a degree in ancient Near Eastern studies; Brother Wilcox is a popular professor in BYU’s Department of Ancient Scripture. Attorney Steve Densley and psychologist Geret Giles will consider “Barriers to Belief” during the final session before lunch.

On Thursday afternoon, cognitive scientist Jeffrey Bradshaw, a vice president of the Interpreter Foundation, will share stories of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where he and his wife have just completed a mission. Immediately following, Egyptologist John Gee will discuss the Book of Abraham, attorney Randall Spackman will share his research on “Chronological Structure and Symbolism in the Small Plates of Nephi,” and Spencer McBride, a historian and documentary editor at the Joseph Smith Papers Project, will address the topic of “Joseph Smith in Van Buren’s White House: Lessons in Electoral Politics and Religious Freedom.”

Wade Miller will open the conference Friday morning. A retired Brigham Young University professor of geology and paleontology, he will examine evidence for the presence of ancient horses in the Americas. Based upon his extensive experience, the chairman of FairMormon’s board, John Lynch, will offer counsel under the title “Strengthen Thy Brethren: Bolstering Those in Faith Crisis.” Concluding the morning session will be remarks (“A Sacred and Imperative Duty”) from Elder Kevin W. Pearson, a General Authority Seventy.

The Friday afternoon session will begin with the prolific and witty Jeff Lindsay, a chemical engineer who has been based for a number of years in Shanghai, China. His presentation's title will be “‘Arise from the Dust’: Digging into a Vital Book of Mormon Theme.” Following Brother Lindsay, Steven Harper, a historian at church headquarters, will offer another examination of the new official history of the church, “Making Saints: A Look into the Writing of the New Church History.”

After a brief snack break, Jeff Robinson, whose doctoral dissertation on the subject anchors a quarter century of relevant professional experience, will speak on “Thinking Differently About Same-Sex Attraction.” And, finally, a fellow by the name of Daniel Peterson has been asked to address the topic of “Apologetics: What, Why and How,” though what he will say remains mysterious and may well remain mysterious long after he sits down.

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“Every member a missionary,” said LDS Church President David O. McKay. “Be ready at any time,” says J.B. Phillips’ modern translation of 1 Peter 3:15, “to give a quiet and reverent answer to any man who wants a reason for the hope that you have within you.” The 2018 FairMormon conference is designed to better equip Latter-day Saints for that task. There has never been a time when it has been more important to commend and defend the claims of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.

For details regarding the 2018 FairMormon conference, see fairmormon.org/conference/august-2018.